Let me invite you on an imaginary journey into the future. What would Sarawak be like after our current Chief Minister Datuk Taib Mahmud is gone?
The question is not entirely irrelevant. Taib is 72 or 73 years old. He has had a bout of cancer. He may still outlive me, though I am only 61. You cannot tell about such things. One thing is certain: though Taib can be the CM of Sarawak for life, he cannot be CM forever.
Another thing is quite clear. He has no clear line of succession. So who can and will succeed him as the next Sarawak CM.
People in Sarawak tell me that his son Sulaiman is being groomed to take over from him. The establishment of political dynasties is a norm in Malaysian politics.
We know little about the political mettle of this young gentleman, beyond the fact that he is a new MP and a deputy minister in the federal cabinet. It is an understatement to say that he has yet to make any political impact on Sarawak.
I only know that Sulaiman was eased out of the very important post of Executive Chairman of the Rashid Hussein Bank. The simple rhetoric is this: if he cannot even run a bank without reproach, how can he run a huge state like Sarawak?
How can he expect to keep in check the very discordant component parties of Sarawak Barisan Nasional? Would the senior Malay, Chinese, Dayak, and Melanau leaders just accept the top BN leadership so bestowed on an untried and unproven greenhorn?
Even if Taib ascends to the governorship of Sarawak to provide an umbrella for his son as the new CM; he cannot run the state government on a day to day basis. The son would have to stand on his own feet. Is he up to the task?
A stop-gap CM?
Another option for Taib is for another senior leader of the PBB to stand in as a stop gap measure as a transition CM, to warm the seat for Sulaiman, just as Goh Chok Tong did for Lee Sian Loong in Singapore. Would he choose Abang Jo or Alfred Jabu? Or even Awang Tengah?
Whoever is chosen as a stop-gap measure may just like the throne of the CM so much that he may claim it for his own forever. Don’t forget there is astronomical amount of patronage involved in that exalted office. This must be very much on Taib’s mind as he ponders over the question of succession.
We all know about the Malay/Melanau disaffection at the top level of the political elite. (At the bottom of the political food chain, the Malay and Melanau people are equally poor.) Abang Jo may be the deputy president in PBB, but his chance of promotion to the seat of the Sarawak top-dog does not look promising.
Here lies the real and present danger to the Sarawak Barisan Nasional.
We are all aware of the political prowess of Taib Mahmud. He is a Machiavellian par excellence. He has braved many political storms head on in the past and has survived them all with greater strength than ever. To many opposition politicians, he is the very symbol of BN invincibility during any election.
He has also been the supreme master of the divide-and-rule tactic inside and outside the ruling circle. That is how he brought the Dayak leaders to their knees, removing the greatest threat to his hold on power.
In the past, he had announced the names of possible successors. Then he would watch carefully how these people behave. This is the tactic of “drawing the snakes from their holes”, the same tactic that Mao Tze Tung employed at the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to purge rivals from within. The minute the snake emerged, its head is chopped off. Ling Piaw was the first such casualty.
Since then, Adenan Satem and Effendi Norwawi have been sidelined. Abang Abu Bakar has been exiled to the wilderness. (I must add that on the few occasions I have met these three gentlemen, they were very courteous and gracious towards me. Somehow, we are all Anak Sarawak.)
Taib – the last of Asian political Strongman
Taib has been in power since 1981; he has been in office for the past 28 years, the longest serving top Malaysian politician in our nation. In fact, if you look around the whole of Asia, nobody has been in power longer than Taib. He is the last of the typical Political Strongmen in Asia. Others like him, such as Suharto, Lee Kuan Yiew, Mahathir, and Marcos have all disappeared from the scene.
The trouble with the phenomenon of Political Strongman is always the problem of succession.
A Political Strongman will try to weaken possible threats within his ruling circle, so as to entrench his own top position. At the end of his long rule, when he is prepared to retire, or when he dies, not one leader from any one faction within his ruling circle can indeed fill his shoes. You get a succession crisis, and the ruling circle may plunge into a tussle for leadership. Only Lee Kuan Yiew could solve this problem by remaining as Mentor Minister and his son is truly qualified to run Singapore as their new PM.
I wish Taib Mahmud long life and good health.
But the minute he retires or dies in office, the Sarawak BN will have a leadership vacuum, possibly leading to an internal power struggle, the agitation of the powerful tectonic plates against one another in search of new alliances. I can already foresee the palace intrigues that are bound to play out behind the scene. There will be power brokers and political vultures galore. There will also be fierce horse-trading.
Will we fear the entry of UMNO into Sarawak?
UMNO is now fighting for their life in West Malaysia. They fear even fighting a by-election against PKR in Penanti! They are no longer the brand name that they used to be; they are just a sick lame duck that may not survive the next general election.
When that crisis brews upon Taib’s departure from the Sarawak scene, what kind of new possibilities will present themselves to the opposition parties and the people in Sarawak? Will there be cracks in the BN Great Wall of Sarawak for the lights of change to stream in and burst the entire Wall altogether?
You tell me.